News

New airport security rules require more personal data

16 Mar 2009

Passengers booking flights within the US will soon have to supply their date of birth and sex, in addition to their names as part of a new programme, Secure Flight.

Responsibility for checking passenger names against “watch lists” has now been shifted from the airlines to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and only those cleared will be given boarding passes.

The initiatives will shortly come into effect on domestic flights, and later this year on international routes.

Personal data on most passengers will be retained for no more than seven days, the agency said.

While privacy advocates believe Secure Flight is tantamount to government restriction on travel, federal authorities insist otherwise, saying it would improve the quality of the watch lists that contain names of suspected terrorism and criminal suspects. They said it would help alleviate the misidentification of innocent passengers placed on “no-fly” lists because their names are similar to those found on watch lists, which happens all too often.

Even the high-profile US senator Ted Kennedy suffers from the indignity of being refused boarding because his name is similar to an alias used by a terror suspect. Suspects are required to undergo extra screening at the airport, including physical pat-downs and hand searches of carry on items.

Intended to supplement the work of airport screeners, Secure Flight attempts to strike a balance between preventing the next terrorist attack in the US, which officials say is inevitable, and protecting the rights of individuals against unreasonable background searches. Original passenger pre-screening protocols were to have delved more deeply into personal histories, including past travel habits and personal financial records.

The efforts of privacy-rights advocate groups, however, convinced the US Congress to limit such pre-conditions.

For more details, visit www.tsa.gov

Margie T Logarta

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